Superintendent salaries on par with state average in Butler County

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

School superintendents in Butler County earn salaries that range from slightly more than $100,000 to a high of about $178,000, with the average falling close to the average for school superintendents across Pennsylvania.

According to the state Department of Education, the average salary for a Pennsylvania superintendent was $131,565 as of October, the most current statewide data available.

The average superintendent salary for the nine school districts that cover Butler County was $133,896 as of October.

With many districts starting classes next week, several school officials said paying a superintendent can be a balancing act between attracting good talent while being mindful of tightening state subsidies and wanting to avoid tax increases.

“School districts are trying to operate more cost-effectively,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, which helps negotiate superintendent salaries.

School superintendents are the chief administrative officers of school districts and supervise matters related to instruction as directed by the school board, according to the Pennsylvania School Code.

“Everybody wants to earn a big paycheck,” said James Budzilek, incoming superintendent of Mars Area. “But you also have to be very cognizant of taxpayers' money.”

Candidates have to complete a graduate-level program, though not necessarily possess a doctorate, and be certified as superintendent-eligible by the state.

At the top of the scale in Butler County is outgoing Mars Area School Superintendent William Pettigrew, with more than 26 years as leader of the district that enrolls about 3,200 students.

Pettigrew, who is set to retire on Dec. 1, earns about $178,000 annually, according to records supplied by individual school districts to the Tribune-Review and by the state Department of Education.

Allegheny-Clarion Valley Superintendent David McDeavitt sits at the low end.

He was promoted from high school principal to superintendent in 2012 at a salary of $98,500 and will make about $102,000 this school year. The district has 720 students.

With Pettigrew's retirement, Seneca Valley Superintendent Tracy Vitale, earning more than $171,000, will be the highest-paid superintendent in Butler County. She had been an assistant superintendent before being named as superintendent in 2011. The district has about 7,300 students.

Pettigrew said when he started in education 44 years ago, he made $6,860 a year as a teacher.

“I've earned (the salary) over the years,” Pettigrew said. “People have to understand these jobs are not 9 to 5. They are 24 hours a day, weekends, holidays.”

Budzilek, who joined the district on Aug. 5 as assistant to Pettigrew, will succeed him as superintendent on Dec. 1.

He will earn $138,000 through June 30.

According to his contract, he'll receive a 3 percent annual raise, starting with the 2014-2015 school year, and is entitled to an additional 1 percent based on job performance.

Budzilek had been superintendent at the Leechburg School District for nine years, where he earned about $120,000.

Mars received 24 applications for the post, said J. Dayle Ferguson, president of the Mars Area School District.

Budzilek, as does Pettigrew, has a doctorate in education.

“The pool of superintendents in the state is shrinking,” Ferguson said. “We were pleased to find such a highly qualified and experienced superintendent (Budzilek), and we made him what we believed to be a fair offer.”

Vitale had been an assistant superintendent at Seneca Valley before being named as superintendent in 2011. She joined the school district in 2002 and has a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh.

“I would say that Dr. Vitale is being paid in accordance with other superintendents of like school districts of similar sizes, attendance and issues,” said school board President Robert Hill Jr.

“We looked at things locally and made an offer that would be commensurate with what we felt would be fair. We wanted to make Dr. Vitale know we were making a long-term commitment and were serious about our offer as well.”

Attempts to reach Vitale for comment were not successful.

Buckheit said he has watched starting salaries for incoming superintendents shrink over the years, which he sees as a reflection of school districts grappling with tight budgets and some of them choosing less experienced candidates than in the past.

“Maybe before they spent more to get someone with more experience, but today, some school districts, especially smaller ones, are agreeing to compromise. They're hoping the person without the experience is able to perform the job,” he said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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